Amnesty International USA Statement for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Review of the FY2020 State Department Budget Request
April 10, 2019
The Honorable James E. Risch The Honorable Bob Menendez
Chairman Ranking Member
Foreign Relations Committee Foreign Relations Committee
U.S. Senate U.S. Senate
423 Dirksen Senate Office Building 423 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington D 20510
Re: Amnesty International USA Statement on The Review of the FY2020 State Department Budget Request
Dear Chairman Risch, Ranking Member Menendez, and members of the Committee:
On behalf of Amnesty International and our more than seven million members and supporters worldwide, we hereby submit this statement for the record. Amnesty International is an international human rights organization, founded in 1961 with national and regional offices in more than 70 countries.
The Administration’s FY20 budget request calls for drastic cuts to the International Affairs budget by 23 percent. The budget is especially harsh with respect to refugees, as the biggest target is the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (“PRM”) which stands to lose nearly 90 percent of its budget.
As a political document, the budget reflects the White House’s “America First” foreign policy and an intentional weakening of DOS programs aimed at aiding refugees or promoting the respect for and protection of human rights. It is incumbent on Congress to stop and reverse this course.
I. Protection of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Displaced Peoples
68.5 million people have fled their homes, escaping persecution, torture and violence. Among them are nearly 25.4 million refugees, over half of whom are children. They face desperate circumstances and are in dire need of shelter, medical treatment, food and other life-saving services. The U.S. must provide robust, sustained funding for humanitarian aid to protect displaced populations around the world and provide funding and support for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (“USRAP”).
Congress should robustly fund the Migration and Refugee Assistance (“MRA”) account, the International Disaster Assistance (“IDA”) account, the Emergency Refugee and Migration Account (“ERMA”) and fund the USRAP to support the admissions of at least 75,000 refugees in FY 2020.
Congress should also require the Secretary of State to properly consult with Congress in setting the Presidential Determination (“PD”) of at least 75,000 refugees for FY2020.
Congress should restore critically needed funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (“UNRWA”)
II. Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Human Rights Defenders (“HRDs”) around the world are routinely the target of judicial harassment, smear campaigns, intimidation, death threats, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, assault, torture, enforced disappearances, and even assassination. In 2018, 321 HRDs were assassinated.
Amnesty International has firsthand experience with this harassment: In 2017 the Board Chair of Amnesty International Turkey was jailed for 14 months, and the Executive Director of Amnesty Turkey was jailed for four months. Both still face trial on charges of allegedly being members of a terrorist organization. In 2018 the offices of Amnesty International India were raided by Indian security forces, and Amnesty International Nigeria was the focus of days of protests paid for by the Nigerian military.
Congress should increase funding for programs that support or build capacity for HRDs such as the Human Rights Defenders’ Fund and Lifeline: The Embattled NGOs Assistance Fund. Press governments to immediately suspend, investigate, and prosecute state actors implicated in attacks or threats against human rights defenders and to end false prosecutions of human rights defenders.
Congress should require that the State Department and USAID hold regular consultations with civil society organizations in country and in Washington, to evaluate HRD Programs and to implement said organizations recommendations. These consultations should not be limited to USAID grantees and should include a full range of civil society groups, outside the capitols and include those addressing numerous different human rights issues. The State Department and USAID should then provide Congress with a report on the situation of HRDs that includes this civil society assessment of the impact of U.S. funded programs in support of HRDs.
Congress should ensure that the State Department and US Embassies worldwide regularly and publicly recognize the importance and legitimacy of HRDs and their work.
III. Curbing Support for Human Rights Abusing Governments by the Trump Administration
President Trump’s praise and support of human rights abusers like Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Xi Jinping of China, and Kim Jong Un of North Korea undermines the United States’ credibility and capacity to champion human rights. It also increases the risk of other governments engaging in human rights abuses with the understanding that violating human rights will incur no negative repercussions from the U.S. Now more than ever, it is essential that Congress vocalize its support of human rights and the rule of law.
Congress should fully fund the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House and the John McCain Human Rights Commission in the Senate, at $250,000 each, to advance Congress’ human rights agenda.
Congress should support the efforts of United Nations (“UN”) institutions and agencies to advance human rights by maintaining 2018 funding levels for UN Special Procedures Mechanisms such as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”) which is tasked with reporting on the human rights record of all UN member states. UN Special Procedures play a vital role in protecting human rights, with Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups experts. On January 4, 2018, the Guardian reported that the DOS has quietly ended its cooperation with these experts. Congress must press Secretary Pompeo to commit to ensuring that the U.S. delegation collaborates and supports the work of the OHCHR and that of special procedures mandate holders, including in cases when they are investigating potential human rights violations in the U.S.
Congress should continue to support UN Peacekeeping Operations. The U.S. has historically been the largest financial contributor to U.N. peacekeeping efforts. The administration’s FY20 budget request proposes deep cuts to peacekeeping, which would endanger countless civilian lives and increase the risks of instability. Congress should press Secretary Pompeo to recommit to supporting UN Peacekeeping efforts.
Congress should continue to support the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”). The IACHR regularly investigates massacres, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, violence against women, unfair trials, intimidation of judges, and violations of press freedom. The Trump Administration must commit to continue funding the IACHR and support its critical work.
The institutional crisis in Venezuela– fueled by deep political polarization and marked social deterioration in the country – has had a devastating impact on human rights. The government of Nicolas Maduro is engaging in a campaign of political repression and violating Venezuelans ‘political and socioeconomic rights. Over 90 percent of Venezuelans now live in poverty, and over three million have been forced to flee the country. In 2019 Amnesty International concluded that the forces of the Maduro government engaged in a campaign of extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detention, and use of excessive force. Amnesty documented six extrajudicial executions at the hands of the Venezuelan Special Action Forces; two young men killed, and one young man wounded by firearms deployed by the Bolivarian National Guard and the Bolivarian National Police; as well as the arbitrary detention of over 137 children and youth. All the targeted individuals had been linked to protests agitating for change and demanding access to basic goods, including food and medicine.
Congress should provide humanitarian assistance that is not conditioned or politicized. Funds under the MRA account should be channeled to assist neighboring countries that are receiving unprecedented numbers of Venezuelan refugees and migrants.
Following reforms to the social security system in April 2018, Nicaraguans began engaging in widespread protests. In response, the regime of Daniel Ortega in power since 2007, brutally cracked down on protesters, resulting in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries. While the reforms were ultimately scuttled, the Nicaraguan people continued to take to the streets to demand an end to the Ortega government and to the impunity in the wake of the deadly response to the protests. In June 2018 Amnesty International concluded that the Ortega government has adopted a strategy of indiscriminate repression, intending not only to stanch the protests but to punish those who participated and anyone who attempts to shine a light on the rampant corruption and rights abuses committed by the regime. The government has engaged in escalating attacks on the press, forcing over 60 journalists into exile.
In December 2018 the government cancelled the legal registration of the Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights, a domestic NGO dedicated to educating Nicaraguans about their human rights and providing reporting on Nicaragua’s compliance with its human rights guarantees. In December 2018, the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI, by its Spanish acronym) concluded that the Ortega government had committed crimes against humanity in its crackdown on the 2018 protests. That same month, the Nicaraguan government kicked out GIEI as well as the Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua, in a move the Organization of American States criticized as “further plac[ing] Nicaragua in the terrain of authoritarianism.” Since 2018, many Nicaraguans have been forced to seek protection elsewhere, including in the U.S.
Congress should allocate funds towards truth and reconciliation efforts following the brutal crackdown on political protests in April 2018, including the creation of an independent, nonpartisan oversight mechanism to investigate extrajudicial executions and arbitrary detentions related to the protests. In addition, AIUSA recommends that a portion of the assistance available to Nicaragua be conditioned upon the government guaranteeing that human rights defenders and media workers are able to do their work without repression, attacks, harassment, and criminalization, and that those human rights organizations that were shut down, be allowed to operate openly again without any constraints.
Northern Triangle of Central America (“NTCA”)
In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales suddenly ended the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (“CICIG”) in January 2019, and the government parliamentary body debated laws that would shrink space for non-governmental organizations and provide amnesty to military members involved in grave human rights violations stemming from the civil war. The Guatemalan government continues to engage in smear campaigns and the misuse of the criminal justice system to harass and intimidate HRDs continued. Guatemalans continue to flee to escape high levels of inequality and violence.
In El Salvador increasing levels of violence continued to affect people’s rights to life, physical integrity, education and freedom of movement. There were reports of excessive use of force by the security forces and of a surge in asylum applications by Salvadorans in various Central American countries.
In Honduras security forces brutally repressed massive protests that have taken place after the presidential elections. Protesters took to the streets to denounce the lack of transparency around the presidential election. Security forces used excessive force against these protestors, including lethal weapons. According to the Ombudsperson, at least 31 people have been killed, and multiple cases of people injured by firearms or brutally beaten by security forces were reported, as well as cases that could amount to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Authorities arrested or detained hundreds of people during protests and the 10-day curfew implemented in December 2017.
Congress should ensure that assistance to the NTCA, particularly under the Foreign Military Financing, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and International Military Education and Training accounts, be conditioned on the continued operation of anti-corruption and pro-human rights enforcement and oversight mechanisms in each of the three countries.
Congress should require the Secretary of State to report periodically on the efforts of the three governments to:
(1) Cooperate with commissions against corruption and impunity;
(2) Fully comply with the recommendations and rulings of the Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights;
(3) Investigate and prosecute in the civilian justice system members of the military and police forces who are credibly alleged to have violated human rights;
(4) End the role of the military in internal policing;
(5) Strengthen the independence of the judiciary and Office of the Attorney General;
(6) Improve government transparency and accountability;
(7) Protect the rights and life of human rights defenders, journalists, trade unionists, women, LGBTI, environmental activists, and Indigenous leaders; and
(8) Establish and implement a policy of local consultation directly with the affected communities and civil society organizations in any development projects to ensure that it is in accordance with Free, Prior, and Informed Consent.
(9) Continue to support and fund the work of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in the NTCA.
Since the inauguration of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in December 2018, at least 14 HRDs have been reported killed. The armed forces continued to undertake regular policing functions, and President Lopez Obrador has proposed the creation of a National Guard supervised by the Ministry of Defense, which would effectively transfer policing functions to the military. New data showed that two thirds of women had experienced gender-based violence during their lives.
Congress should ensure that military financing and counter-narcotics funding be conditioned on Mexico complying with the following:
(1) Promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate and prosecute the killings of human rights defenders, which in 2018 alone, reached 48 HRDs assassinated;
(2) Promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate and prosecute violations of human rights in civilian courts, including the killings at Tlatlaya in June 2014 and the enforced disappearance of 43 students at Ayotzinapa in September 2014, in accordance with Mexican law and international law;
(3) Ensuring that authorities collaborate with the search mechanisms established under the General Law on Disappearances and that the specialized prosecutors’ offices at the state and federal level are investigating and prosecuting enforced disappearances and disappearances committed by individuals;
(4) Ensuring that special prosecutors’ offices against torture at the state and federal level are investigating and prosecuting allegations of torture in accordance with the General Law to Prevent, Investigate and Sanction Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment;
(5) Fully complying with the recommendations and rulings of the Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights.
(2) Congress should ensure that that any provisions allocating funding under the MRA or Overseas Contingency Operations accounts to strengthen the Mexican asylum system clarify that such funding is not meant to render Mexico a “safe third country” or otherwise jeopardize the ability of asylum-seekers crossing via land through Mexico to exercise their right to seek asylum in the U.S.
While the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in November of 2016 marked the official end of the five-decade old armed conflict between the two sides, violations of international humanitarian law and human rights continued to happen. The armed conflict intensified in some areas of Colombia as a result of armed confrontations between ELN guerrillas, paramilitary groups, and state security forces seeking to fill the power vacuum left by the demobilized FARC guerrillas. Paramilitary structures continued to operate in various parts of the country, despite their supposed demobilization under the terms of Law 975, passed in 2005. There has been a sharp increase in the amount of killings of social leaders since the Peace Agreement was signed, particularly hard hit have been Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. In 2018 alone, over 126 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia, that is more than 1 out of every 3 HRDs killed globally.
Of the significant funds available for Colombia under the Foreign Military Financing, International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, and International Military Education and Training accounts, at least 25 percent should be withheld until the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the Committee on Appropriations that:
1) Cases involving members of the Colombian military who have been credibly alleged to have violated human rights, including those in positions with command authority who ordered or covered up such crimes, are subject only to civilian court jurisdiction. This is especially critical in cases of extrajudicial execution “false positives.”;
2) The Colombian military is cooperating with civilian prosecutors in such cases;
3) Military officers credibly alleged to have committed gross violations of human rights are immediately removed from positions with command authority until the completion of judicial proceedings and appropriately punished if convicted;
4) The Government of Colombia is upholding its international obligations by holding accountable persons responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and other gross violations of international law, and is not offering pardon to such persons;
5) The Government of Colombia is guaranteeing the rights of victims of the armed conflict to truth, justice, reparations, and non-repetition as one of the main pillars to eliminate the structural causes of violence in the country;
6) The Government of Colombia is continuing to dismantle any paramilitary structures that still exist despite their supposed demobilization in 2005 and promote criminal investigations into the alleged complicity of state officials with such structures;
7) The Government of Colombia is taking effective measures to stop the killings of human rights defenders and that judicial authorities are prosecuting those responsible for such attacks;
8) The Government of Colombia is taking effective steps to protect Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities, incorporating gender-differentiated measures, and is respecting their rights, culture, and territory.
2018 was marked by a sharp surge of violent attacks against a range of individuals and groups, often in the name of patriotism and “traditional values”. Women’s rights activists and members of the LGBTI community have been especially vulnerable to attacks by violent extremists. The U.S. State Department’s own human rights report states, “there was frequent violence against LGBTI persons, and authorities often did not adequately investigate these cases or hold perpetrators to account.”
In this climate, Ukrainian LGBTI community centers and advocacy organizations provide a critical lifeline to the embattled community. A network of community organizations and advocacy groups provide LGBTI Ukrainians with peer-to-peer support, resources, information and, in some cases, health care. During times of crisis, gay rights groups provide young Ukrainians with emergency shelter, food, and counseling. LGBTI individuals have been especially hard hit in Ukraine’s east, where conflict, persecution and discrimination has forced many LGBTI people to flee. The Swedish and British governments already provide funding for these organizations, but their financial position remains tenuous and demand for their services far outpaces their capacity.
Congress should provide funding for embattled organizations and community centers supporting LGBTI populations in Ukraine
Russia/North Caucasus, Georgia
Amnesty International is concerned about President Trump’s request to slash the budget of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), which oversees broadcasting by Radio Free Liberty/Radio Europe (RFE/RL), Voice of America, and other entities. The proposed cuts would necessitate the closure of RFE/RL’s Georgian, Tatar-Bashkir, and North Caucasus language services, which provide accurate information in environments where media freedom is highly restricted.
In 2018, Amnesty International extensively documented human rights violations in Russia in general and in the North Caucasus in particular. In March 2018, the campaign chief of Alexander Navalny, a prominent Russian opposition activist, was detained in the city of Ufa, capital of the Russian republic of Bashkortostan. In October 2018, an Amnesty International researcher observing demonstrations in the Ingushetian capital Magas was abducted, beaten, and subjected to a terrifying mock execution by masked men. In January 2019, Chechen authorities resumed large-scale arrests of individuals believed to be gay or lesbian, imprisoning and torturing them. This wave of arrests came on the heels of a similar purge in 2017 when authorities rounded up more than 100 men suspected of homosexuality and that at least three have been killed.
Most media in the Russia federation remains under effective state control and independent journalists are frequently attacked and sometimes killed. In March 2019, President Putin signed a new law that allows for the punishment of individuals who spread “fake news” and information which “disrespects the state.” The law is expected to further consolidate the government’s control over the media.
The State Department’s human rights report highlights challenges faced by independent media in Georgia. The Georgian government has taken multiple actions against critical media sources by attempting to impede funding disclosures, force changes to ownership, and place allies in charge of public broadcasting outlets.
In this restrictive climate, citizens of Georgia and the Russian Federation rely on information provided by U.S. government funded news sources including RFE/RL. The Trump administration’s proposed cuts would leave a lasting impact on freedom of information in Russia and Georgia. AIUSA urges congress to maintain funding to the USAGM account at least at prior levels.
Congress should reject the president’s proposed cut to U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) budget and maintain funding at 2019 levels.
The AEECA account was designed to provide U.S. government assistance to the 12 countries of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. The AEECA account supports much needed programs including health sector reform, environmental protection, human rights promotion, and economic development for vulnerable populations.
A newly consolidated ESDF account that includes funds previously managed through the AEECA account would face substantial pressure to be disbursed based on the administration’s political calculus rather than traditional development objectives. A consolidated ESDF account similarly risks empowering the future presidential budget requests to scale down and ultimately zero out foreign assistance to Eurasia under the guise that current international assistance funding does not sufficiently support key strategic interests.
Congress should reject the White House’s proposed consolidation of the Assistance for Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia (AEECA) and other separate accounts into a new Economic Support and Development Fund (ESDF) account and restore AEECA account funding to FY2019 levels.
Over the past two years, Hungarian authorities enacted a series of laws plainly designed to muzzle civil society organizations critical of government policy. The LexNGO2017 law put in place multiple unjust obligations on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) receiving funding from abroad. LexNGO2018, a subsequent bill, introduced criminal penalties for a range of activities protected by international law, including the provision of basic assistance to asylum-seekers. As documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, these laws post a serious threat to civil society and threaten the independence of Hungary’s judiciary. This attack on civil society has not gone unnoticed in the international community. Partly owing to Hungary’s attack on civil society actors, the European People’s Party recently voted to suspend the Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party from the European parliamentary bloc. The State Department’s human rights report points to “political intimidation of and legal restrictions on civil society” as a major human rights issue in Hungary.
Still, Hungarian authorities have indicated no intention of abandoning their campaign against NGOs. Civil society continues to operate under severe pressure. Congress should express its support for Hungary’s nongovernmental sector by providing $13 million over four years, a sum in line with current contributions made by the government of Norway.
Congress should provide funding for Civil Society and should stipulate that none of the funds appropriated should be available for assistance for the central Government of Hungary.
For the last 35 years under the leadership of President Paul Biya, the country’s military has enjoyed absolute impunity as it has committed egregious human rights violations. These abuses worsened as the country began to be targeted by the armed group Boko Haram in 2013. Security forces arbitrarily detained persons suspected of being supporters or members of Boko Haram. They committed extrajudicial executions, torture, and destroyed villages and farmlands with impunity. The security forces have implemented similarly brutal tactics in response to escalating unrest in the Anglophone regions of the country. Much more must be done to prevent more Cameroonians from joining armed separatist’s groups. Pressure for reform and respect for human rights in Cameroon must come with equal force from highest levels of U.S. Government.
Congress should suspend security assistance to the Cameroonian military until Congress has received confirmation that the Cameroonian government has taken action to hold all individuals implicated in acts of torture and other serious human rights violation accountable.
In 2019 Ethiopia will have to make good on the promises of reform ushered in by the appointment Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali at the beginning of April 2018. While the government has released over 10,000 political prisoners, much of the legislation that resulted in their incarceration remains in place. A number of banned opposition groups have returned to the country and have held events but sweeping repressive legislation is still the law and could be enforced at any given moment. At the same time impunity for human rights violations by the security forces before and during the last two states of emergency remains in place and will increasingly shape a difficult, transition period of negotiation between the country’s stakeholders. Ethnically based violence is on the rise and the government is under increasing criticism both failing to protect people while also still targeting youth activists in mass arrests.
Congress should increase funding for capacity building programs to rebuild and strengthen the rule of law within the Ethiopian Judiciary.
The Nigerian security forces have been linked to serious human rights violations in their counterinsurgency campaign against the armed group Boko Haram. Violations have included extrajudicial executions, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention and rape and have contributed to a culture of impunity and increasing levels of violence in states in the country’s north east and middle belt regions. Security forces have also destroyed homes and livelihoods contributing to an internally displaced population (IDPs) of nearly two million people. The Nigerian Government’s failure to hold anyone accountable for the abuses, in some cases denying outright the allegations and in other cases justifying the activities of the military or launching investigations whose findings are never released. The increasing levels of violence is driving a rise in the number of IDPs, which could also further destabilize the country.
Congress should freeze planned military transfers to the Nigerian military until such a time that Congress is convinced that credible and transparent steps have been taken by the Nigerian government toward rebuilding professional, accountable security services in Nigeria.
Increase or maintain 2018 levels of humanitarian support to Nigeria for persons displaced as result of the Boko Haram insurgency and the Farmer- Herder conflict in the Middle Belt regions of Nigeria.
IV. Discrimination against Vulnerable Populations and Stigmatized Groups
In March, the Department of State once again chose to omit coverage of issues relating to LGBTI rights and reproductive rights in it reports on human rights practices. Continuing from the 2018 document, the 2019 reports stripped out sexual and reproductive rights, effectively erasing the human rights concerns of millions, and instead included only very narrow mentions of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization or coercive population control methods. This “narrowing” has produced reports that are ideologically-driven interpretations of human rights that ignore key rights for women– to health, bodily integrity, and to control when they have children. Not only does this undermine the United States’ stated commitment to human rights, it woefully misunderstands women’s rights and the centrality of sexual and reproductive rights to ensuring equal rights for all. These glaring absences in the reports are a diminishment not only of women’s rights, but of the integrity of the report itself and the State Department’s commitment to human rights.
Congress should robustly fund the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to help U.S. embassies and USAID missions around the world work with host governments, and civil society to promote the rights women including access to sexual and reproductive care.
Ending the Deadly Global Gag Rule
The Global Gag Rule, also known as the Mexico City Policy, was reinstated by President Trump in 2017 and prohibits foreign NGOs that receive U.S. foreign aid from using their own money to inform the public or educate their government on the need to make safe abortion available, provide legal abortion services, or provide advice on where to get an abortion. The Global Gag rule means that NGOs that receive U.S. International aid for other reasons– like maternal health, HIV prevention, or fighting malaria or Zika —must choose whether to lose critical U.S. funding or provide the services their patients need. Documentation has shown that the policy restricts a basic right to speech and the right to make informed health decisions, as well as harms the health and lives of poor women by making it more difficult to access family planning services. Additionally, it has also been found that the policy does not reduce abortion.
Congress should increase funding for international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programs.
Stopping Gender-Based Violence
Every year, violence devastates the lives of millions of women and girls worldwide. Freedom from violence is a human right; yet, one out of every three women worldwide will be physically, sexually or otherwise abused during her lifetime—with rates reaching 70 percent in some countries. Violence against women and girls is a global epidemic and a human rights violation occurring daily, ranging from harmful practices such as rape, “honor killings,” female genital cutting and human trafficking. Violence against women destabilizes countries, impedes economic progress and prevents women from contributing to their community. The United States has as a critical role to play in reducing gender-based violence (GBV) globally. The International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) makes ending violence against women and girls a top U.S. diplomatic and foreign assistance priority. The bill creates a more effective and efficient strategy to combat GBV by streamlining the U.S. government’s current efforts.
Congress should ensure robust funding to combat violence against women and girls globally through the Departments of State and USAID.
Protecting LGBTI Rights
In May 2018, Secretary of State Pompeo stated that the U.S. “firmly opposes criminalization, violence and serious acts of discrimination such as housing, employment and government services directed against LGBTI persons.” He went on to say that the U.S. uses “public and private diplomacy to raise human rights concerns, provide emergency assistance to people at risk, and impose visa restrictions and economic sanctions against those who persecute them.” The U.S. government must continue its efforts to hold individuals who violate the human rights of LGBTI people to account, supporting LGBTI civil society as part of our broader democracy, rights and governance funding, and protecting LGBTI people seeking asylum.
Congress should maintain robust funding for the Bureau of Human Rights Democracy and Labor in order to allow it to monitor and work on protecting and promoting the rights of the LGBTI communities around the world.
V. Improving the Respect and Protection of Human Rights while Pursing National Security Interests
Yemen and Saudi Arabia
In May 2017 President Trump announced the conclusion of a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia. While experts have since cast doubt on the accuracy of this advertised sum it is clear that the Trump administration sells substantial amounts of weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, many of which are deployed in the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. That war, waged with little concern for civilian lives and international law, has to date caused at least 10,000 civilian casualties. Save the Children estimated that 130 children were dying every day from malnutrition or cholera.
Amnesty International has documented how U.S. munitions sold to the coalition were used against civilians, often to shocking affect. In one case, a U.S.–manufactured Raytheon Paveway laser-guided bomb killed 16 civilians and injured 17 more. Media reports indicated that a bomb supplied by the U.S. was responsible for killing 40 children in August 2018. Concurrently, Amnesty International and others have documented that the Saudi-led coalition and their Yemeni allies have run a network of secret prisons in Southern Yemen where Yemenis are disappeared, tortured and sometimes killed.
Congress should pass the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019, and suspend the supply of weapons, munitions and related military equipment to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other parties to the conflict in Yemen.
The continued detention of 40 men at Guantanamo Bay, most without charge or trial, is a human rights travesty and a clear violation of the U.S. obligations under international human rights law. Those who have been charged were charged in the Military Commission system at Guantanamo, which fails to meet even the minimum international fair trial standards. The judges are not independent, the government has denied defendants access to evidence, and it has repeatedly intruded on what are supposed to be confidential relationships between the defendants and their attorneys. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has made clear that it has no intention of transferring any detainees out of Guantanamo, including the five detainees who have already been cleared for release from the prison by all relevant U.S. national security agencies. This is clearly arbitrary detention in violation of international human rights law.
Toffiq al-Bihani, for example, is a 46-year old Yemeni detainee who has been in U.S. custody without charge or trial for more than 16 years. He is one of the detainees named by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as having been tortured by the CIA in U.S. custody. He has never even been charged with a crime. Mr. Al-Bihani was slated for conditional transfer by the Obama administration in 2010, either to Yemen when the security situation improved, or to another country that would accept him. Saudi Arabia, where he was born and has extended family, had agreed to accept him. Yet the transfer never happened. His continued detention at Guantanamo, more than 16 years after he was turned over to the U.S. by Afghan authorities and eight years after he was cleared to leave, is unconscionable and a clear violation of international law.
Congress should lift the current statutory restrictions on transferring Guantanamo detainees to the United States so as to allow those detainees accused of wrongdoing to be tried in the U.S. federal court system. Those not accused of crimes must be released.
Mitigating Civilian Impact of US military Strikes in Counterterrorism Operations
The United States government has dramatically increased its use of lethal air strikes in counterterrorism operations around the world, including in Syria, Iraq and Somalia. Civilian deaths, injuries, displacement and destruction of civilian property has surged as well. These impacts of U.S. actions all increase the suffering of the local population and undermine U.S. efforts to end the threats to human rights posed by non-state armed groups in these areas. While the Department of Defense must improve its means of investigating civilian casualties from its actions, it is imperative that the State Department work with the Department of Defense to ensure there are effective means in affected communities for victims of US lethal actions to report their claims to the U.S. government. Only then can the U.S. meaningfully investigate those claims, acknowledge harm caused or rights violated by the U.S. government when it occurs, and provide appropriate compensation and assistance in response.
Congress should ensure that the State Department receives adequate funding to establish, in coordination with the Department of Defense, effective means for affected civilian populations in areas of conflict where the U.S. is participating in that conflict to report civilian deaths, injuries and other harms caused by the U.S. government. Congress should also ensure that the State Department receives sufficient funding to provide humanitarian and reconstruction assistance targeted specifically to areas where the U.S. has caused destruction by its use of lethal force.
For more information, please contact Adotei Akwei at 202-509-8148 or at email: [email protected]
Joanne Lin Adotei Akwei
National Director Deputy Director
Advocacy and Government Relations Advocacy and Government Relations